California’s community-choice aggregators are increasingly taking utility customers and signing big renewable energy deals. But CCAs have not matched the billions of dollars of EV charging infrastructure investments being made by California's utilities, even though their territories make up some of the highest EV penetration areas in the state. 

new program launched jointly Tuesday by multiple Silicon Valley area CCAs and municipal utilities and state agency California Energy Commission aims to begin closing this gap. The funding will come from CEC’s California Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Project, which works with local and regional partners to develop EV incentive programs across the state, and has issued and reserved about $35 million in projects to date.

The first $12 million CEC grant will be matched by CCA Peninsula Clean Energy for $24 million total, to deploy “thousands” of EV chargers across San Mateo County in the next four years. The second $21 million grant will expand the charging rollout to neighboring CCAs Silicon Valley Clean Energy and San Jose Clean Energy and municipal utilities Silicon Valley Power and City of Palo Alto Utilities, boosting the total investment to $33 million.

That’s a tiny sliver of the billions of dollars in investment the state will need to reach its goal of 1.5 million zero-emissions vehicles on the road by 2025, and 5 million by 2030, as put into policy by former Gov. Jerry Brown in early 2018.

California estimates it will need 250,000 public charging stations operating by 2025 to meet its goal. To date, the state’s investor-owned utilities have taken on the bulk of this investment challenge. 

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has approved about $1 billion to incentivize residential, workplace and public charging from utilities PG&E, SCE and SDG&E, with about $1 billion more in the pipeline. On Thursday, the CPUC approved SDG&E's $107 million plan to support charging infrastructure for medium and heavy-duty EVs, following on its approval last year of $592 million in spending from SCE and PG&E with a similar focus on buses, vans, trucks and other fleet vehicles. 

To be sure, CCAs will be the beneficiaries of much of this utility investment, which is largely focused on distribution grid infrastructure improvements, as well as rebates and incentives for vehicle owners and charging providers. And CCAs like Peninsula Clean Energy and Marin Clean Energy have been putting their own EV rebates and charging incentives in place to foster adoption by their customers. 

CCAs have also actively coordinated with utilities on their EV charging push, since its customers are, for the sake of these programs, utility customers, Kirsten Andrews-Schwind, senior communications manager for Peninula Clean Energy, noted in an email. For PCE, that includes working with PG&E on public outreach, actively referring customers for funding, and providing technical assistance in applications, which can come with challenging electrical service requirements. 

But CCAs don’t operate under direct CPUC authority as investor-owned utilities do, a fact that’s led to some conflicts between the CPUC and CCAs, as they’ve grown to a scale that makes their future decisions a major influence on future grid reliability and energy markets. 

And EV charging could be a huge burden or an enormous resource for the grid, depending on how it’s managed.

California’s utilities are already linking EV charging rates and incentives to programs that can manage charging to avoid overloading the grid at times of peak demand, or redirect charging to times when renewable energy is abundant, whether midday solar power or overnight wind power.  

A rising force in California

Peninsula Clean Energy serves 290,000 customers in San Mateo County, which has about 19,000 registered plug-in electric vehicles. It already offers incentives for purchase or lease of new EVs, including a low-income customer assistance program to promote the long-term savings of switching from gasoline to electricity for driving, CEO Jan Pepper said in a statement. 

But the new program will bring incentives for publicly available EV chargers, along with $2 million for outreach and technical assistance to prepare property owners for their installation. It will also provide technical support for school districts switching to electric school buses, one of the heavy-duty vehicle classes being targeted for electrification in the state. 

CCAs have been making strides in picking up their share of the state’s future clean energy needs. Under current trends, CCAs are increasing their current 2 gigawatts of renewables under contract by another gigawatt this year, and they are set to hit 10 gigawatts by 2030 — about the amount that California’s integrated resource plan projects they’ll need to match their share of the state’s electric customer base.  

Some CCAs are also starting to gain the credit ratings that are critical to securing longer-term power-purchase agreements at reasonable rates.

California’s legislature created the CCA program in 2002, but it wasn’t until 2010 that the first, Marin Clean Energy, began serving customers. It took another five years to add Sonoma Clean Power, Lancaster Choice Energy and Peninsula Clean Energy.

But starting in 2016, the floodgates opened for CCA formation, with nine operational by the end of 2017, and more than 20 as of this summer. 

PG&E, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in January in the face of tens of billions of dollars in wildfire liabilities, has lost 2.4 million of its 5.4 million electricity customers to the 12 CCAs in its region, with more planned to open soon.

San Diego Gas & Electric, facing the impending departure of the city of San Diego and about 40 percent of its load to a CCA, has been reportedly exploring a path to exit the energy procurement business.